HMI Gap 2015: Learning to live life to the fullest in Patagonia

Slush Recycle” is a term that Justin, one of our instructors, coined on our most recent backpacking and climbing trip through Parque Patagonia and Reserva Jeinimeni. Walking around in wet boots is not as bothersome as it may sound; eventually, the water warms up, and you get to walk around on two small water beds. It even reduces the chances of getting blisters. But, when you are bushwhacking through a knee-deep, half-frozen marsh, each step recycles new slush into your boots. This leaves no time for the water in your boots to warm up, and so your feet turn into ice blocks until you can extricate yourself from the marsh and walk around on solid ground for half an hour or so.

The Patagonian wilderness is no cakewalk. It will snow on you all day, and then at night it will freeze your boots. Our mantra became “If you like the weather, wait five minutes.” It’s preposterous that anyone in their right mind would spend fifteen days in this environment by choice. But then again, all of us are here because we’re a little crazy.

I’ve been assigned the task of telling you what your beloved children, grandchildren, friends, or what have you, have been up to for the past two weeks. I could write about all of the rivers we crossed and peaks we summited. I could describe our rest day in a rustic backcountry hut and our many ridiculous inside jokes for which you have absolutely no frame of reference. I could tell you about running low on food and hiking ten miles with over 3,000 feet of elevation gain in one day to our re-ration at Cerro Colorado or about all of the unique climbing that we did there. But that’s not really what it was about. If I describe a regular day to you, it would sound hard, painful, and totally pointless, and objectively, it was.

But we’re not out here simply to lug around fifty pound  packs in freezing rain, sleep on the cold ground, and push the limits of what body odor means. There is a feeling you get when you’re out here that you can’t get in the concrete jungle back home. The wilderness breaks down all of the masks and barriers that you put on for your normal life. The rawness of trekking across a wide estepa below heavily glaciated peaks or jamming a beautiful crack up a remote alpine cliff is a totally unprecedented feeling for most of us.

Mother nature shows you who you are and what you are really made of. When you walk into the Avilés Valley, deep in the heart of Parque Patagonia, there is no cutting corners or running to any shelter that you have not created by your own devices. People talk a lot about wanting to go out and “see the world.” That, out there, the twisted lenga forest nestled between mountains too distant to have names, is where the world exists in a different state. The environment we are used to spending our time in is almost totally controlled by human beings. Out here, the most shelter you will get from the dice-sized hail with which the sky pelts you is a thin tarp, down sleeping bag, and whatever else you have decided to carry on your back. It’s very humbling to feel so unprotected from the earth and have no idea what will happen next.

Going on a Patagonia wilderness trip strips you down to the bare minimum. There is no faking, no wining, and no substitutes. It brings out your most fundamental needs and desires. You are going to be put in one of the most vulnerable places of your life and will learn as much about yourself as you will about the vast land around you. As soon as it’s over, you will dream about the next time you get to go out and explore. And at the end of the day, there is nothing more satisfying than laying down – on the earth or in a bed, it doesn’t matter – and smiling about what you have just done, knowing that there is more to look forward to in the future.

So yes, call me insane, ridiculous, preposterous, or what ever you want, but that is really what is happening out here.
We are learning to live life to the fullest and how to squeeze everything we can out of even the most strenuous situations. Sure, we could be sitting in some classroom learning about what happens “out in the real world” or “preparing for our future.” Instead, we are here, experiencing the real world, living the future, chasing that adventure and finally getting that feeling of happiness and fulfillment that we have sought for the past 18 years.

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